When it comes to year-ahead planning, agencies have always understood the value of data in decision-making. But with everything from Covid restrictions to consumer attitudes changing daily, the pandemic has smashed the crystal ball.
Many independent agencies pivoted during the pandemic, repositioning themselves to offer more than just basic project execution at a time when retainer work was scarce. And in 2022, the competition is fiercer than ever.
Agency planners have a tough job. With so much in flux, it’s almost impossible to forecast what will happen next.
So what can agencies do to create a solid 12-month strategy plan and set realistic growth goals in 2022?
1. Year-ahead planning starts with looking back.
As former Apple CEO Steve Jobs put it:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”
Start by reflecting on last year. Let your data guide the way, using key performance metrics to identify highs and lows. It’s just as important to understand what didn’t work and why, and use these takeaways to find opportunities for growth.
Aim high, but know your limits. Ad agency planners need to be realistic about what can be accomplished with their budget, time and resource. Avoid getting hung up on vanity metrics too – luring in big names is an attractive prospect, but not at the cost of losing existing clients or falling short of expectations.
It’s also worth shifting to quarterly planning if you can. This way, you can review more regularly and react as and when the goalposts change. Smaller, more flexible agencies are much better at adapting to change – a significant advantage over networks.
Agencies who can prove they’re adaptable, data-led and able to add long-term value will win bigger clients looking for fresh strategic thinking.
By digging deeper into past data, you’ll uncover new insights to help you set achievable growth goals and inform each agency pitch to win new business. All you have to do is connect the dots.
2. Invest in tech to retain top talent.
The war on talent has been raging for some time now. Changes to work/life balance priorities mean that companies are not only pitching for business, but for staff too.
Ad agency planners would do well to review internal operations as part of year-ahead planning. With the big shift to strategy, networked agencies and indies alike are fighting to attract and retain top talent to achieve ambitious targets and deliver on their ROI promises.
By putting their people first, RocketMill increased their client revenues by almost half year-on-year, with a 90% staff retention rate. Similarly, independent talent agency We Are Rosie saw phenomenal growth of 556% in the last year and scored huge investment.
Talk to teams to identify problems and invest in data-led solutions to re-engage employees. Looking at GWI Work survey data:
A third of businesses say effective use of IT and technology is their biggest challenge.
This is a big problem for small agencies. Clients need answers, and they need them now.
Where teams are time-poor or low on resource, having access to a straightforward insights platform with a global view of changing consumer behaviors and attitudes is essential. From buyers to marketers, anyone can grab compelling insights at short notice and find fast, data-backed solutions to client problems.
Agencies who can quickly pinpoint both emerging trends and deep insight across sectors – and in doing so, present the bigger picture – have the power to move at the speed of industry. And that’s what big logos crave.
With the right insights and the right people to deliver them, you’ll drive faster conversion and revenue growth (and make competitors squirm). Not to mention, it makes your employees’ jobs a hell of a lot easier – and in this economy, that’s worth its weight in gold.
Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of you.
3. Pitch big or go home.
Independent agency planners now need to think beyond project-based strategy and find unique growth opportunities to secure future business.
When deciding what pitches to go for, consider your strengths as an agency and how far you can stretch for clients without veering off course or losing sight of your brand.
In the wise words of 4A’s CEO Marla Kaplowitz:
“Where agencies fall off is when they try to be all things and they’re not sticking to what their core focus area, specialty and expertise is.”
Work out what makes your agency special, then capitalize on it. What’s your area of expertise? And how can you build on that to tackle new audiences and channels, attracting new clientele?
Perhaps your agency specializes in a particular sector, and you’ve just spotted an innovative way to enter a new market and achieve global growth, just like gaming publishers Blizzard Entertainment.
Whatever your wider goals are, use deep insight to show clients something they haven’t seen before. Demonstrating what they’re missing, with the data to back up your claims, is a real ad agency superpower.
Agencies looking to wow their clients need to think beyond short-term objectives, finding innovative ways to spur growth, enter new markets and engage new audiences.
In short – landing the whale is ambitious, but perfectly achievable with year-ahead planning.
It’s all about proving to clients how you can add long-term value and exceed their ROI expectations. So don’t just focus on who their audience is now. Think bigger. Look at harmonized data sets to easily compare regional consumer data and spot those golden growth opportunities to help steer clients (and your agency) in the right direction.
One big logo can attract a chain of new clients, fast-tracking growth and pushing your agency further than you ever thought possible. So dig deeper, enrich pitches with reliable data, and treat your people like royalty.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future looks bright for indies.